Wednesday, June 10, 2020

On some particularly strong panels from The Green Lantern Vols. 1-2

I was honestly a little surprised when Grant Morrison and Liam Sharp were announced as the creative team for the new Green Lantern title, in large part because it seemed like a character/franchise that was somewhat beneath the stature and talent of each (Maybe it's just me, but I've traditionally considered Green Lantern a B- to D-List character/comic, depending on who's bearing the ring and when it'be being published), and nothing I knew about either gentleman's past work necessarily suggested a natural affinity for DC's very 1960s space cop character, Hal Jordan (the least interesting of Earth-born Green Lanterns, in my opinion). That...really just goes to show that, for as much as I like to play armchair DC Comics editor, I'm not terribly qualified to do it real-life (Of course, I do recognize that if Grant Morrison and Liam Sharp want to do anything together, you let them; were I at DC, I would have greenlit a Morrison/Sharp Infinity, Inc, Primal Force or New Guardians revival, if that's what they wanted to do).

It didn't take too many pages of reading their The Green Lantern (a better title for an Alan Scott book than a Hal Jordan one, you ask me) to realize that the character/concept is actually kinda perfect for them, though. By three pages in, we've seen a self-pitying Green Lantern who is also royalty, a microscopic Green Lantern "super-intelligent all-purpose" virus named Floozle Flem (Floozle Flem doesn't catch you... ...You catch Floozle Flem") and a giant alien spider pirate dressed in like a particularly fancy old-timey Earth pirate.

While I can't say that Morrison had all that much to say about Hal Jordan as a character within the 200+ pages of comics collected in these two volumes, a 12-issue run on a title that was then kinda sorta canceled only to be relaunched as The Green Lantern Season Two, he certainly had things to say about the concept, and he certainly seems to have had a great deal of fun mining the character/franchise's history and setting for cool comics material, which he and Sharp deftly organize into a series of comics that generally contain a single, done-in-one story with a beginning, middle and end (and, as often as not, a particular theme, premise, tone or even genre of its own...something that, I hate to say given the history between the writers, reminded me of Alan Moore's run on the Swamp Thing character) that nevertheless tell an ongoing, overarching story line about various beings' plans to instill order in a chaotic universe.

As he did during his rather messy tenure on Batman and, to a lesser extent, his seminal late-'90s JLA run, Morrison draws inspiration from the character's Silver Age adventures, presenting them as straight-faced as possible, with the greater verisimilitude and more sophisticated storytelling that modern, adult readers have come to expect, rather than what, say, Gardner Fox was writing for kids in the 1960s. a pretty good way to tackle Jordan who, for all of Geoff Johns' valiant efforts to make him more relevant, continues to work best as the mid-twentieth century American idea of a leading man. (Tellingly, this Hal Jordan, like Johns', has all but chucked any remnants of his old, original cast and premise. Characters like Tom and Carol, or his old fighter pilot job, appear and are acknowledged as things from his past, but they are not integral parts of him or his story. Similarly, Green Arrow appears in one 20-page story, but Jordan makes an interesting distinction between himself and the superheroes. He's not a hero, he says, he's a space cop who hangs out with superheroes. Sometimes.)

All the attention on space and aliens also means that Morrison has pretty free rein to use all the magic, fantasy and science fiction he cares to; there's really nothing so weird that it can't be included in a DC Comics' Green Lantern comic with no more justification than "It's an alien" or "That's from a different dimension." And so a Green Lantern who is perfectly humanoid, save for the fact that he has an active volcano for his shoulders, his face appearing in the cloud of smoke and ash that lingers above it? Sure, why not?

In Sharp, Morrison has a partner who can not only draw anything, but he can draw it in a great deal of detail, and no amount of detail, no size of crowd or ornate setting seems to be too much for him to handle. I don't know if Sharp had a three-year head-start on this title or what exactly, but he fills his pages with the number of characters and the amount of details that can look quite uncommon outside of a George Perez or Phil Jimenez comic these days.

And that's important, because Morrison's comics all but live and die on the strength of their artists, as his horribly uneven Batman run so vividly attests; there are issues of that massive, years-long Batman story line that are all but unreadable in their shoddiness, and there are others that are among the better comics of Morrison's career.

Morrison and Sharp's The Green Lantern is therefore not only pretty great, but far greater than I would have imagined, given my relative antipathy toward the character, and the amount of time I have spent reading about various Green Lanterns (but mostly Hal Jordan) during the last 15-20 years. But rather than me trying to restate that for a couple hundred more words, or having just crafted a one-sentence post of "Look, just read it," I thought I'd pull out some particularly noteworthy panels from the first two volumes of the series, Intergalactic Lawman and The Day The Stars Fell.

PAGE 13, PANELS 5-8:
This is by far the dirtiest thing I have ever read in a DC comic book.

Hey look, it's Evil Star! I don't have any firsthand experience with Evil Star, but I always liked the goofy costume and name. He's one of those characters—along with Goldface—that I knew was a Silver Age Green Lantern villain that doesn't get seen all that often. When Geoff Johns turned his attention away from Earth and GL's earthbound rogue's gallery pretty quickly into his run on the relaunched Green Lantern title in 2005, I remember being at least partially disappointed we didn't get to see how Johns would Batman-ize the likes of Evil Star, Goldface, and I don't know, The Invisible Destroyer in the same way that he had The Shark and Hector Hammond (and, later, The Black Hand). I suppose it was ultimately all for the best, given the new characters and concepts Johns introduced into the Green Lantern mythos, but I'm glad to see Morrison making use of the likes of Evil Star.
It's worth noting that Sharp's design barely varies at all from Gil Kane's original one. This Evil Star has a bigger, floppier star on his face, and is missing his cape, but that's about it.

The Blackstars who rescued Evil Star from where the GLC had imprisoned him give him some shit about his name, suggesting it's why people judge him and that it's "almost inviting trouble with the law."

I kinda liked his explanation, even if they remain unconvinced.

Speaking of the Blackstars, there's an explanation for why their leader Controller Mu changed the name from "Darkstars," having to do with the more absolute of "black" vs. "dark," but it's probably also worth noting that it also makes them sound closer to Blackwater, maybe the best-known of the sorts of private security contractors that the team echoes in its earliest appearances in the title.

Controller Mu meets with a trio of Dhorians lead by a Volgar Zo. If the Dhorians look familiar, that's because one member of their species was a pretty early Justice League villain, Kanjar Ro, who first appeared in Gardner Fox and Mike Sekowsky's Justice League of America #3, way back in 1961.

Though Ro's appearance has varied a bit over the decades as he's been reinvented and redesigned in various comics and other media, his pink skin, pointy nose and segmented, insect-like eyes are constants. Here Sharp's designs for Ro's fellow Dhorians are both faithful to Sekowsky's original design for the character, while also bizarrely alien, an effect achieved mostly by exaggerating a feature here or there, putting the leg joints in the "wrong" places, having the eyelids close horizontally instead of vertically, and so on.

Hell, they're even wearing outfits similar to Kanjar Ro's get-up!
Here Sharp proves to be perfectly aligned with Morrison in terms of a basic approach that has served Morrison extremely well both in this title and during his fairly lengthy run on the Batman character—that is, again, taking things pretty much straight from the Silver Age and Bronze Age of DC Comics, the weirder the better, and presenting them matter-of-factly, with just enough of realism to suit the tone of modern, more sophisticated comics storytelling in an age when they are made for adults, rather than children.

So while Morrison has extended the particulars of Kanjar Ro to the people of his planet, including their occupation of slave-trading, and even "The Gamma Gong" and a spaceship resembling a many-oared slave ship, Sharp gives what was a somewhat silly alien design from the 1960s a realistic veneer that makes it viscerally repellent; their six-fingered hands and goat-like gait are truly creepy on the page. We'll see rather a lot of them in the fourth issue of the series.

Look! Look at them all!

The Dhorians have stolen planet Earth, shrunken it to a manageable size, and are now preparing to sell it to the highest bidder. The above image shows some of those attending the auction. It is a single panel on a five-panel page, and yet Sharp has not merely filled it with distinct, individual, wicked-looking alien villains, but he has filled it with name ones: There The Overmaster (from the six-part 1994 Justice League line crossover "Judgement Day"), Mongal (Mongul's daughter, first introduced in an issue of Showcase '95 by Peter Tomasi and Scott Eaton, and seemingly killed off during Geoff Johns' Green Lantern tenure), Steppenwolf (Jack Kirby's Fourth World villain, in his updated New 52 look), a female White Martian (in the look Howard Porter gave their race in the initial story arc of Morrison's own 1997-launched JLA), Grayven (the son of Darkseid introduced in 1996 by Ron Marz and Daryl Banks in their run on Green Lantern), Agamemno (from the Mark Waid-masterminded 2000 event The Silver Age), The Queen Bee (in the design she first appeared in during the 1999 "World War III" arc of Morrison's JLA), what appear to be a trio of aliens conquered by Starro and...11 other characters so distinct-looking that I would not be at all surprised to find out that they too are all pulled from past DC comics, even if I can't place them.

(UPDATE: I asked for help identifying the others on Twitter, and Patrick Carrington responded by pointing me to this post from Jesse Russell's blog, The Shared Universe, which was obviously extremely helpful. He seems to have gotten them all, although I still think the three guys with stars on their faces are Starro conquerees rather than Starlings, based on the fact that they only have one eye apiece. Russell's blog will prove useful later on too, when Morrison and Sharp start throwing alternate Green Lanterns at the reader. I...probably wouldn't have bothered with this post had I known how thoroughly Russell dissected the so much of the series).

This is the sort of panel that makes me love shared-setting comics, though, and DC Comics in particular. A whole huge swathe of DC Comics history is packed into that one single panel, a panel that rewards lingering on, and seems to have been specifically created for no reason other than to impress the hell out of the reader and, perhaps, remind them of all sorts of other cool characters and comics from the publisher's history (Honestly, I bet that if we can figure out who all of these characters are and when and where they first appeared, we could compile a pretty good reading list out of it).

Most of them, I should note, don't actually say or do anything in the pages that follow. Steppenwolf gets a few lines, threatening a trio of Dominators (first introduced in 1989 crossover event Invasion!) not to attempt to out-bid him. They ignore him.

Anyway, this is a glorious panel, and whether Morrison's script mentioned each of those characters by name and asked that Sharp somehow find a way to squeeze them all in, or if Sharp took it upon himself to do so, it demonstrates a mainstream comic artist who not only gives a shit, as one would hope and wish all artists would, but actually, genuinely cares about the comic he's drawing. 

The panel immediately preceding this one, by the way, is less-detailed and filled with cameos, but it  has even more characters in it, showing as it does the crowd of assorted auction-goers from further away. They're much harder to make out, but I suppose one with a magnifying glass could do so; Sharp drew about 100 distinct figures into that practically-impossible-to-see crowd, including Death's Head II and what appears to be a Skrull.

PAGE 70, PANELS 4-6:
A representative of the United States "and everybody else" tells Hal that they are perfectly okay with the Earth being completely destroyed in a thousand years, so long as they get to live the rest of their lives on a stable planet...and that they all get super-powers, to boot!

The basic premise of this issue, the series' fourth, is that this being called "The Shepherd" has bought planet Earth from the Dhorian slavers for "then thousand jilli-stellars," hangs it in his gigantic ship among many other planets, and is ready to take off for his space sanctuary where his planets "may roam free and grow fat in paradise." Hal and the Green Lantern Corps intervene, and Hal gets in a heated argument with The Shepherd, who looks and talks like a stereotypical image of the Christian God, but is actually a monstrous-looking "Terravore," who will eat the Earth when it's ready.

I'm not sure why Hal's so surprised that Earthlings are ready to sacrifice the lives of their descendants for short-term gain; I mean, that's basically exactly how we got into our current, existential crisis with the climate, and we did that without the promise of 1,000-years of paradise and superpowers in the plus column.

Hell, too many people today would sacrifice their grandchildren and children—let alone great-grandchildren and descendants—for short term convenience.

Anyway, this whole issue is fucking brilliant.

Countess Belzebeth, the daughter of cosmic vampire Starbreaker, a Justice League villain introduced in 1972 by Mike Friedrich and Dick Dillin, takes Hal to Vorr, "Planet of vampires." It is apparently a have for all sorts of vampires, including Marvel's Morbius, The Living Vampire, Tom Cruise and Brad Pitt from Interview With The Vampire, and plenty of other cameos.

PAGE 34, PANELS 1-3:
Hal Jordan returns to Earth to crash with his old pal Green Arrow, who encourages him to spend some time with his feet on the ground, hanging out with normal people. It...doesn't go as planned.

After breaking up a weird drug deal involving the selling of souls, they find a warehouse with a giant green arrow stuck in it, a huge, green Robin Hood hat laying outside it, and then, well, what you see above.

The first and only time I encountered a "Xeen Arrow" (and remembered doing so) was in Tom Scioli's incomparably good (and tragically short) Super Powers back-up in the pages of Cave Carson Has a Cybernetic Eye. In presenting Green Arrow's new origin in just 16 panels, Scioli had Queen wearing clothing made of foliage and using a bow and arrow to survive on a "Starfish Island," which was secretly alive (and resembled Starro). In the last few panels of the page, a blue-skinned, purple-garbed alien appeared to Ollie and announced himself as "Xeen Arrow of Dimension Xero," telling him to heed his words:
String your bow to the vibration of the universe. Fight greed in all its forms. Use trick arrows.
Ollie naturally takes Xeen Arrow's advice, and even takes his name and he starts out on his new, super-heroic mission, but his new superhero name gets muddled by the papers, who call him Green Arrow instead.

Googling it later, I see that Xeen Arrow is actually far older than Scioli's use of the name, and the character actually hails from a 1958 issue of Adventure Comics, from back when Green Arrow was basically a Batman clone (In the sequence above, note that Ollie says, "Speedy and me ran into this cat one time! Weird period in both our lives"). That particular issue, it turns out, was collected in the 2001 collection Green Arrow By Jack Kirby (perhaps explaining Scioli's familiarity), which I had read, but just the once, and I apparently forgot about the giant Green Arrow from Dimension Zero. (I should really try to dig that book out of my comics midden though, as I see it also includes "The Green Arrows of The World," which was basically GA's answer to Batman's Club of Heroes, which Morrison reinvented into Batman, Inc. Maybe I'll give it a read and write those and other notable stories from it up in a future post)

At any rate, props to Morrison and Sharp for reintroducing Xeen Arrow...alongside a Xeen Lantern.

This particular issue, entitled "Space Junkies," also emphasizes just how much Morrison and Scioli have in common, in the way they glom on to odd bits of superhero continuity and remix and reinvent it in cool, sometimes crazy ways.


A smiling Sinestro sips tea...? His costume looks off here, too, with the colors reversed. This is the character's first appearance in the series, and we'll find out much later that this is actually "Thal Sinestro of the Anti-Universe," where everything is opposite of our universe. "Good Guy Sinestro," Jordan says when he hears that, to which this particularly charming version of Hal's archenemy replies, "I don't know iv I'd go that far, dear boy. Lovable rogue at best!"

I actually do kinda love this Sinestro, although the last few Sinestros I've encountered have been pretty dull and one-note, including the resurrected version from J.M. DeMattei's run on The Spectre (read during my weeks of quarantine) and the one that has been part of the Luthor's small, five-person Legion of Doom throughout Scott Snyder's Justice League run.

PAGE 68:
After an issue fighting against Abin Sur, the devilish-looking Green Lantern from Morrison's own Multiversity, Hal is greeted by a trio of other multi-dimensional GLs: Flashlight (also of Multiversity), Magic Lantern (from Morrison's Animal Man run) and a Batman-who-is-also a Green Lantern (also also of Multiversity).
At first I suspected the last of these was the Green Lantern of Mike Barr and Jerry Bingham's 1994 Elseworlds book, Batman: In Darkest Knight (the one in which Bruce Wayne becomes Earth's Green Lantern, rather than Hal Jordan), but then I recalled that Barr and Bingham's Batman-as-Green Lantern didn't have ears on his cowl.

Apparently this Bat-Lantern is literally named Bat-Lantern and hails from Earth-32, a world in the Multiverse in which DC characters are amalgamated with one another (It was listed in the Multiversity Guidebook).

PAGE 71, PANELS 1-3:
The other reason I thought that Bat-Lantern might have been Barr and Bingham's character was that Darkest Knight featured a rather clumsy (in the opinion of teenage Caleb) amalgamation of The Joker and Sinestro, which seemed like it went a bit too far in terms of smooshing Batman and Green Lantern together. And here, of course, we see another amalgamation of a Batman and Green Lantern villain, and the mention of yet another.

The Shark is apparently just a humanoid shark dressed like the Penguin, sans umbrella, top-hat and cigarette holder. It's a good look. Like, most anyone looks like pretty cool villain when dressed in a tuxedo with tails and a monocle. As great a visual as that is, I must confess a great deal of curiosity about this "Masked Hand" that the Shark mentions, an combination of Black Mask and Black Hand. I am assuming that The Masked Hand is a villain who wears a tiny little mask, perhaps one that resembles the one Black Mask originally wore, over his hand, which he holds as a sideways fist all the time, and makes it talk by moving the thumb up and down.

PAGE 103, PANEL 4:
This flaming giant appears a few times, battling a powerful team of superheroes, before this page, in which a character refers to him as "Some immense Anti-Matter Titan!"
This appears to be another reinvention of an old Fox/Seksowsky character from Justice League of America, although it's not a connection I made until I read that description of the character. If so, then here's yet another example of a Morrison and Sharp giving a somewhat goofy-looking old character the same treatment they gave the slavers of Kanjar Ro's planet.

PAGE 110, PANEL 5:
I really like this particular Green Lantern, who isn't too terribly green. I don't know who she is, what Earth she hails from or what previous comic or story she appeared in (if, indeed, she did, and isn't original to this comic). You can get another, better look at her on the cover of The Green Lantern #10).

PAGE 112, PANEL 2:
As Hal's adventures with the various Green Lanterns from across the Multiverse comes to a close, we see him flying alongside Bat-Lantern, Magic Lantern, Flashlight, the Tangent Green Lantern, Abin Sur, that cool lady Lantern, an alternate universe Star Sapphire and a whole bunch of other Green Lanterns. I recognize the Green Lanterns from Earth-2, Just Imagine Stan Lee With Dave Gibbons Creating Green Lantern, Batman Beyond, Kingdom Come (I think and...that's all I got for sure. That leaves a Kyle Rayner and two John Stewarts I'm blanking on, and what looks like a caricature of Chinese immigrant from the 19th Century with upsettingly yellow skin, but I hoping that's just the result of the green aura blending in with the flesh-colored coloring of his skin, or even my eyesight starting to go now that I'm in my fourth decade, because otherwise YEESH. He does appear in another cameo earlier in the story, and doesn't look anywhere nearly as yellow, so that's good.

PAGE 123, PANELS 1-4:
I just really like the word "Scorpedoes".


Jose Gregorio Bencomo Gomez said...

RIP Denny O'Neil. This year really sucks.

CBrown said...

At first, I thought that Chinese Green Lantern from page 112 might be from that mini-series drawn by Paul Gulacy, Dragon Lord, but looking it up, it doesn't look like the same character. Maybe he's supposed to be the guy from the very first Golden Age GL origin story, who first found the green meteor that later became the lantern?